SALT LAKE CITY — As a phlebotomist inserted a needle into Gov. Spencer Cox's arm on Monday, he says he was grateful to be wearing a face mask.
"It's nice because nobody could see the terror on my face when I was getting stuck with that needle," Cox quipped, speaking to KSL.com as he donated blood at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control during a Red Cross drive for state employees.
He said he joined in the blood drive to help encourage others to donate at a time of great need for the state and the nation.
"What we're hearing from doctors and hospitals is that we really do need more blood right now. We saw a slowdown in blood donations as the pandemic wore on, and now as more and more people have been getting surgeries and things are picking up, there's a desperate need for blood right now," Cox said.
Heidi Ruster, Red Cross regional CEO for Utah and Nevada, described the national shortage of blood as critical.
"Normally in the summertime, we do have a critical shortage because people — the organizations we work with, the schools and other organizations — are closed and everybody's going on vacation and that kind of thing. This year, it's particularly challenging just because of the number of surgeries and other activities that are happening, that were elective and people decided to put it off for COVID and now that has to be done," Ruster explained.
"So the number of surgeries and operations ... are much more significant. And so the demand in the hospitals is much more beyond what we normally see, so that's where the challenge lies," she said.
A medical director for the Red Cross has described it as the worst shortage for blood businesses nationally that he's seen in his 25 years with the organization, according to Ruster.
The Red Cross has seen a sharp rise in the need for blood products in hospitals compared to the same time last year, with an average of 12% more sent to hospitals each day, according to organization officials.
"While generous individuals across the country have rolled up a sleeve to help hospital patients, unfortunately, the Red Cross continues to face a severe blood shortage," Paul Sullivan, senior vice president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, said in a statement. "Right now, the Red Cross needs to collect more than 1,000 additional blood donations each day, above the average target, to meet current hospital demand. It's critical that we increase the number of blood donations to match the growing need for blood to ensure every patient receives the medical treatments they need without delay."
There is an especially urgent need for type O blood donations, as the Red Cross has only about a one-day supply of it on hand but it is hospitals' most needed type, officials said.
Ruster urged Utah businesses and organizations to set up blood drives now and into the next couple of months, as 85% or more of the Red Cross's blood supply is collected at those events. During the pandemic, companies that had gone virtual held many blood drives at the Salt Palace or other larger locations, but there has been some decrease, she said.
In calling for others to donate, Cox emphasized the generosity of Utahns.
"They've been so good to help out at times of need. We've got volunteers that are cleaning out basements right now that are flooded, and of course this room's full of people that are donating blood, and that's the very best of Utah," the governor said.
"We have incredible employees here in the state of Utah, and the (Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control) decided that they wanted to do a service project and they wanted to focus around a blood drive. And they asked if I'd be willing to come down and kick it, and I said, 'Yes, but only if I get to donate, too.' So we carved some time out of my schedule to come and make a donation, and hopefully, more people will find a location to donate near them."
Most people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine can donate blood, but the Red Cross will need to know which vaccine a donor received.
If interested in donating, schedule an appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
ARUP Laboratories also has donation centers in Sandy and Salt Lake City. To schedule an appointment, call 801-584-5272. The centers welcome walk-ins, but appointments are given priority.